TO KEEP ONE’S TREASURE PROTECTED

Within the lump of coal the flame lies hidden,

within its darkness hides the diamond’s glory

all unseen from without, it must be imagined –

the fire that heats the house, the wedding ring

sparkling with future promise. But what would be

the coal’s choice if coal could be said to choose?

 

All day I’ve been trying to imagine the ones

who withhold themselves – arms folded across chests,

or hands buried deep in their pockets. The ones

who remain a few steps back from life, who feel

possessed of a treasure which they didn’t wish

to offer the world, as if they wore their smiles

 

on the insides of their faces. Is this an attempt

to save themselves for the truly important moment?

Or could it suggest the world isn’t good enough?

Or are they trying to be complete in themselves –

both lover and loved, consumer and consumed,

as if one could be complete without the world?

 

What does it mean never to offer, not necessarily

to be selfish but never generous as if afraid

to spill a valuable part of the self, something

not seen as golden until it is gone, as if Self

were a red bird that one squeezes in the hands

thwarting its wish to fly off into the pine trees?

 

Those withholders in the doorway, those lumps

of coal who flee the fire: to see a man slip

to the sidewalk without going to help, to know

a song and not sing it, to watch the hungry

get hungrier, the defeated continue their steady

collapse. Our bodies are coinage. Spend it. Fling

 

the coins upward, hear them jangle on the street.

What happens to the souls of the miserly?

A man creeps down to his basement at midnight,

digs a hole, unearths a box, unfastens a lock.

Inside, a little dust, a spider, two lumps of coal.

A sigh – isn’t it like a scream turned inward?

 

  • Stephen Dobyns

 

Imagine someone you respect said that this poem was “you”. How would you interpret that?

Is it an insult? Who is the “person” in the poem this “you” is in place of? The speaker? Or one of “the ones who withhold themselves”?

I ask this because someone said that this poem was me.

Immediately, it bothered me. I assumed the person who said that this poem is “Teri”, saw me not as the speaker – the one that encourages people to “spend” themselves – but rather as one of those who believes “the world isn’t good enough”, or  who”[feels] possessed of a treasure which they don’t wish to offer the world”, and as one “not necessarily…selfish, but never generous.”

Because I interpret the tone of the poem as the speaker passing judgment of “those” people, I’ll admit it hurt my feelings. This poem is telling me to “spend” my “treasure”, so does this mean I am supposed to be more outgoing? Am I not giving enough of myself? Am I miserly and arrogant and detached and cold? “AS IF one could be complete without the world”. What of those people who feel pretty complete with themselves? Is there something wrong with them?

It’s funny, you know. Someone said this poem was me, and I scoured the poem searching for some hidden truth about myself, rather than searching deeply within myself for some hidden truth about myself. They say that the best judge of yourself is you, but isn’t that a type of tunnel vision? All of these questions certainly got me thinking – how much should I weigh external feedback about my identity?

Does another person’s interpretation of me matter?

So before my feelings are too hurt by someone’s interpretation of me, I also have to ask how that someone interprets that poem. And I also have to ask Mr. Dobyns why he has that particular opinion of people who “remain a few steps back from life”, because it seems to me, they’re the types that do a lot of interpreting of themselves, too, and not just others.
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“Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the LIGHT is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.”

  • Mary Oliver, from “The Ponds”

 

Welcome to my word for 2017: LIGHT.

One Little Word is a project created and developed by Ali Edwards. If you so wish, you can sign up for a year-long workshop. It involves monthly creative prompts wherein you invite your chosen word into your life, reflect on it, and record how it is moving you.

This is my third year for the One Little Word project. After a not-so successful inaugural year, I shied away from possibly participating again. While I won’t be partaking in the workshop from Ali, I will take the same approach I did last year where I write monthly reflections about how my word is manifesting itself.

Last year’s word, CENTER, was amazing. It’s exactly what I needed. It had to do with listening to my true, “centred” self, and the peace that radiates from that place. During the year, it also helped me to have a visual representation for my word to call to mind when I needed to use it as a sort of mantra. For last year’s word, I chose ripples as my symbol.

While my 2015 word, AIM, had potential, it ended up working against my well-being. It’s not the word’s fault; rather, it was the expectations I put on the word that hurt me. I wanted 2015 to be a year of forging ahead with my goals, and I focused on a sort of end result. This made the word more of a talisman, or magical incantation that I assumed would bring some new joy into my life. However, what I have learned about myself is that my emotions have seasons, and when I entered into the “winter” of my moods, AIM became a tool for self-harm. I became a disappointment to myself.

My OLW for 2015 wasn’t a waste, however. I learned from that year that my word works best when it is more wide in scope. It needs to have multiple angles and definitions and not be tied to a specific, concrete goal. CENTER had a lot of different directions (ironically) that were available for interpretation and I need to have that sort of wiggle room in my consciousness with how I treat myself. If I don’t have that space, I can be a wicked taskmaster.

The other weird pride I had for AIM and CENTER was that they were words that weren’t commonly used for this project. Each year, Ali posts all the words that people choose and AIM and CENTER were words that I had never seen in previous years. LIGHT is an incredibly common word choice for this project, but that’s OK. It’s not about originality; it’s about what the word means for me.

Part of my practice for settling on a word is to make note of its definition(s), its antonyms and synonyms, and choosing an icon that will help me focus on what I want it to mean for me. For LIGHT, I chose a feather rather than the more obvious light bulb or some similar thing, because it’s the gentle, weightlessness the word carries that I want to focus on for 2017. Here are some of the definitions/notes I’ve made about LIGHT that helped me conceptualize my word and bring it alive for me:

  • the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible
  • to set to burning; ignite
  • to become illuminated
  • luminous, radiant energy
  • gentle or delicate
  • to cause to brighten
  • to guide
  • to come to rest; to settle upon

Other words that have connections to LIGHT that will inspire me throughout 2017:

  • luminous
  • clear
  • glowing
  • unclouded
  • ease
  • airy
  • weightless
  • graceful
  • resilient
  • relaxed
  • shine

If it’s not already obvious, I LOVE WORDS. And even though LIGHT is so seemingly simple, I love that it isn’t. I love the complexity that a multi-layered word has because it allows me to apply it more easily to nearly everything.

LIGHT is about radiating gentle energy, having clarity, and letting go of whatever weighs me down.

How can I be LIGHT in this moment? How can I be LIGHT in 2017?

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Like many other Canadians, I am still reeling after the televised Tragically Hip concert from Saturday night. I am, perhaps, unnaturally emotional about it. I’ve been listening to their music non-stop for about five days now and whenever I scroll #TheHip on Twitter, I start to cry again.

Tragically-Hip-final-show

from http://vocm.com/news/video-fans-flood-the-tragically-hip-with-love-on-final-tour/

Yes, it stems from a palpable nostalgia and an awareness of a great goodbye. But I think there’s more to it. This moment is much bigger than that, and paradoxically, it is much more intimate.

I am overwhelmed with what I witnessed.

I saw and heard millions of people across the timezones singing the exact same words I was, at the exact same time. I saw my Prime Minister (who is of my generation) watching and listening to what I was, at the exact same time. I saw both women and men wiping the same tears away that I was, at the exact same time. And I saw, in solidarity with those millions of others, a band, and most notably its frontman, singing and speaking to us about things that only we understand and know, in a very focused, modest, Canadian way. More importantly, our national broadcaster stopped highlighting Canada on the world stage in competition, to highlighting Canada on its own stage in celebration. For a few hours, our window shrunk from the planet to just our neighbourhood.

Many writers, thinkers and politicians have mused about Canadian identity, and how, for years, it has been hard to articulate who we are as a nation. Besides self-deprecating jokes about moose, maple syrup or hockey, if someone were to ask me what a Canadian personality is, I would have a hard time articulating it. I mean, it’s only been fairly recently that two distinct national symbols (the flag and the anthem) became “official” emblems of the country: 1965 and 1967, respectively.

And so like an individual plagued with insecurity, we often look outside of ourselves for validation of who we are. For every Hollywood celebrity that happens to be Canadian,  it’s the Canadians who are most likely to remind Hollywood that these celebrities are Canadian. Or, any time that our big brothers to the south recognize us at all (like this article from the New York Times), we blush with pride because, well, the popular kids noticed us.  We need someone to give us attention in order to remind us that we are here.

And yet, that Saturday night was excellent proof of what we need to do instead: to look within to see who we are. Not what we mean to others, but what we mean to ourselves. That Saturday night was an uplifting evening of national dignity, and even though it was somewhat of a sore spot that The Tragically Hip never made it to the “big time” outside our borders, this is the exact point of tension that gives us the greatest pride.

mansbridge tweet

The very fact that The Tragically Hip are almost exclusively loved by Canadians, means we do have a distinct identity. And this is precisely why they mean so much to us. While nearly twelve million people tuning into that concert may not seem like much to anyone else, that’s roughly 1/3 of our entire country. Those are our numbers, and it’s mesmerizing.

So it’s a bittersweet mixture of emotion that I’ve experienced since that concert. It’s like, as a nation, we’ve just earned our wings, and with Gord Downie’s imminent departure, we’re being pushed out of the nest too soon. Who will be our songbird now? Who will tell our stories to us? Who will hold up this mirror into our future?

We have to look within, and whenever we feel that distinct Canadian pride, we have to write about it, talk about it, sing about it. We need it to be the story we tell ourselves.

 

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louis l'amour quote

I don’t know what to write about.

This has been my obstacle (excuse?) for a long time now. You’ll notice that my posts have been few and far between over the past year and a significant reason is because of that obscuse (#newword) I just typed.

It’s not that I haven’t written at all. I faithfully journal nearly every day. And yes, I count that as writing. It’s uninhibited writing about nothing, but it’s writing.

The real deep down truth of it? I’ve lost my mojo when it comes to writing anything for the world to see. I’m not really sure why. I think it comes down to sheer laziness. I get an idea, and I feverishly write a bunch of notes about it, but when it comes down to putting my butt in a chair and writing, the fever miraculously lifts and I find something else to do.

Many gurus out there would say, “Well, then I guess you don’t want it badly enough.” I suppose they’re right. I’m learning that when it comes to delayed gratification, I’m weak. It appears that the only times in my life where I’ve stuck with something to the end is when I was stuck. I had no other option. While some may see my obtaining my University degrees as a single mom as an act of “bravery” or “dedication”, I don’t. I didn’t have another option. Or, at least that’s what I believed at the time.

Knowing this about myself means I have to trick my brain into thinking that sitting down and writing that book is the only option I have. I have to give myself a hard and serious consequence if I want to really finish it, like I will die in a blistering fire if I don’t finish this book. Case in point: my big reading project that I gave myself last year. While I completed about 1/4 of the project, there was nothing really to hold me to finishing it besides thinking to myself, “It would be cool.” Mind you, I read a lot of other books this past year that weren’t on this list, but apparently those don’t count. Technically, I still have about 6 weeks left to read those 17 other books, but, yeah, that’s not going to happen. It’s pretty much physically impossible. So, I failed, but at least I learned something about myself.

I’ve read A LOT about how other writers get stuff done, and for some, accountability is their best friend. As it turns out, I think it’s time I get some as well. The problem is I don’t want another human being involved in my process. This is another psychological trick I use. I know that it will be so much more meaningful for me if I’m the only one motivating myself; otherwise, I’ll feel bullied, and will end up deeply resenting my accountability partner(s) because I HATE BEING TOLD WHAT TO DO…unless it’s from myself, I guess.

I lurk on a special Facebook group and they have been inspiring me to get to writing. I re-read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and it re-inspired me to get to writing. And I finished reading a book last month (published by Penguin, nonetheless), and I was like “I totally could have written this book”, and it inspired me to get to writing.

Blogging about being inspired to write is scary because I don’t want another “public” failure like my big reading project. I’ve learned not to make any more public announcements (another psychological trick I toyed with) about what I’m going to do. However, I will announce that I am building something that will trick me into getting a first draft done.

You know those students that spend so much time and effort devising a way to cheat on an exam, that you wonder why they didn’t just use that time and effort to fairly prepare themselves for the exam? I think I get it.

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circle star trails

So I have this idea for a non-fiction book. I’ve started to read through other books on the subject, and as it stands, there doesn’t seem to be anything out there quite like the idea I have. Which, based on what I’ve read about writing and publishing a non-fiction book, is a very good thing.

Except that now I have a very intimate understanding of how evil and debilitating self-doubt is for a writer.

I figure that if I type out all of my doubts about writing this book, maybe I will exorcise some of the psychological demons that are holding me back. Truthfully, these doubts could very well apply to any sort of writing project, not just this very particular book that I have in mind to write.

Doubt #1 – Who Gives a Rip? (AKA: Who Do You Think You Are?)

On really bad days, “rip” is a euphemism for a very NOT child-friendly word. This doubt comes in two major categories:

  1. Who gives a rip about my subject matter?
  2. Who gives a rip because there is a nobody that is writing this book on this subject matter?

The first category is a little easier to push back against as it’s not really personal. I can’t control what the population is interested in reading.

But #2, that’s the gut-puncher. For every person online that says you don’t need a big platform and following before you try launching a book, there are about five others that tell you that you’re crazy for thinking that anyone will care about that cute, little project you’ve made when YOU’RE A NOBODY.

I’m no guru. I don’t have a large following on my social media channels; I don’t even narrow down my bios on my social media channels to just “writer”. This is mainly because I feel like I’d be lying to people if I claimed I was a writer, because I really have nothing to show for it. Of course, this only further solidifies my nobodyness.

Hop on this never-ending, depressing loop with me, won’t you? It’s nauseating!

Doubt #2 – I’m Wasting My Time

There’s truth to the adage of “striking while the iron is hot”.  I actually have about four book ideas loosely sketched out in my journals and I’m really excited about them when they first come to me. Alack, this euphoric sense of possibility lasts about forty-eight hours.

And then Teri the Realist takes over. I’m soon convinced that if I commit the time and energy to going forward on any of these ideas (and knowing that, chances are, nothing will come of them), then I’m wasting my life, and why don’t I find something more practical to do?

The brutal paradox that follows this “advice” to myself is that in not wanting to waste time, I don’t produce anything and therefore, I’ve wasted my time.

It would seem that the only way to “hack” myself out of this one is to write the whole book in forty-eight hours.

Doubt #3 – I Find Out My Work is Crap

I can only imagine the psychological torture that will happen if I commit and invest so much of myself into the work and it is severely, repeatedly, and unabashedly shot down. I do expect it to be rejected, but I also know I’m not very resilient. I’m not a perfectionist per se, but I have incredibly high expectations. Because I fancy myself a decent writer, I’m not sure I could take that kind of dismissal. I’d probably run scared after the first rejection letter. And because that rejection is a very real possibility, I’m protecting myself by not doing anything about it.

I know I’m not alone. I have read a lot of creatives’ biographies at how they “made it” and every single one of them has had these doubts. What I want to know is, how do you stop them from stopping you?

I don’t want to deny Teri the Realist. She’s one of my best friends, she has helped many others, and she attends to some very important matters. But she also keeps Teri the Creative from having much of a turn. She’s like the pushy older sister that “knows better” and consistently steps in to take over. Her catch phrase? “Oh, just let me do it.”

I think it’s time to let Teri the Creative have her turn with self-doubt.

She would like to begin by quoting Qui-Gon-Jinn, from Episode 1 of Star Wars: “Your focus determines your reality.” Whatever I choose to feed, is what will grow. Do I want to keep feeding the doubts, or do I want to feed the dreams? What will serve me better?

Furthermore, what if I turn the “ifs” around?

What if I write this book and it gets published? What if I discover that someone else out there really needed my book? What if I open up a whole new direction for my life? What if this risk teaches me a lot beyond just “how to get published”? What if it becomes all I’ve ever hoped and dreamed?

Because you know what, there is a slight chance for these things. Who’s to say? It’s possible, right?

And it’s this slight maybe that I bet every writer writes for.

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